The new Amarillo franchise set to make its debut in the Texas League next season announced the five finalists for its new name earlier this week. As expected, the choices are hardly traditional, which of course is the new minor league tradition.
Whether people love or hate the idea of a baseball team being named the Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, Jerky, Long Haulers or Sod Poodles is not really the issue. What matters is that people are talking about it, that local and national media are reporting on it, and that fans are visiting the team’s website to vote on it.
This is all part of the Brandiose tried-and-true formula for launching a new franchise. The company that has worked with 63 minor league teams on their identities and is responsible for leading the minors down this path of silliness has followed this script for more than a decade to help introduce everything from a Jumbo Shrimp to a Flying Squirrel. Brandiose’s golden rule: Attract attention. It’s key to building a brand.
“People always ask if it is the worst thing when someone hates what you do,” Brandiose co-founder Jason Klein said in my recent conversation with him when discussing the criticism they receive for some of the outrageous names they have created. “No, the worst thing is if they are apathetic about the work that we create.
“Whether you are a baseball team or a sports team or a business, or whatever you are working on, your brand is dead [if people are apathetic]. You want people to talk about it. You want to build excitement. There are always going to be detractors, and that debate back and forth about anything is good for the brand. So ultimately the lovers always convert the haters, whether that is outside minor league baseball or inside minor league baseball, everybody comes around.”
History makes it difficult to disagree with Klein’s point. Local Amarillo media is panning the team name finalists, saying the team has struck out, with reports of fans rallying against the finalists. Deadspin took it a little further, of course, saying the names sound like bathroom euphemisms.
Yet the reaction in Amarillo is not too different than how fans 400 miles away in El Paso responded five years ago when that burgeoning franchise narrowed its finalists down to nominees like Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs before settling on Chihuahuas.
“Chihua-what?” read the headline in the El Paso Times the morning after the team announced its name, echoing the sentiment of most local reviews. Fans threatened to boycott the stadium. Deadspin didn’t like this one either, simply calling it “awful.”
El Paso General Manager Brad Taylor urged fans to remain calm and keep an open mind. “Give us a chance,” Taylor said at the time. “See the consistent experience people will get coming into the park each night.”
He was right. The Chihuahuas have become the darlings of El Paso. The ballpark experience is everything Taylor promised it would be, Chihuahuas merchandise is among the best sellers in the minors and the team has drawn at least 500,000 fans in each of its four seasons.
Similar storylines have played out with other Brandiose-client launches over the years, including the Reading Fightin’ Phils in 2012 (when yours truly lamented that Reading was messing was success by changing its name), the Richmond Flying Squirrels in 2010 and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in 2008.
“If people don’t like Flying Squirrels right away, we’re going to have so much fun that they’ll eventually love it,” team Vice President Todd “Parney” Parnell said at the time. Parney, like the Flying Squirrels, has become a beloved figure in Richmond, so much so that he was named grand marshal of the city’s Christmas parade in 2011.
As Klein has said many times, it’s all part of the plan. Lehigh Valley IronPigs President and General Manager Kurt Landes offered a similar perspective in our recent conversation when discussing the unveiling of the IronPigs moniker. The reception for the name at the time wasn’t entirely glowing.
“Well, we certainly had a fair share of people who thought we were idiots,” Landes said in the recent interview. “It’s not uncommon for what happens today if you have a weird, odd name. We spent a lot of time collecting names and nicknames from the community, and having a name the team contest. And there was so much passion for what we were doing and excitement for what we were doing. But if it wasn’t your name, then it wasn’t the right name. So, it really caused a lot of dialogue and caused a lot of frustration because everyone thought they had the best name.
“It’s the normal process. You announce the name and some people are like, uhh, I don’t like it and then they hear it more and more and they kind of see things that we are doing at the ballpark with it. And then you come out with the logo, and people either love or hate the logo, but more people come around to it. And by the time we got to Opening Day, people were wearing pig snouts on their faces walking around the ballpark. And they were fully bought into what we were doing.”
So fear not, Amarilloians. The ballpark experience is what matters most. If ownership delivers on that, you’ll soon be sporting Boot Scooter T-shirts or Jerky jerseys or perhaps you’ll even be yipping for the Sod Poodles. Either way, chances are you’re going to end up loving it.